Renaissance Music in The Humorous Magistrate: From the 1700s to Today

Many dramatic theatrical works have impressive musical scores, and this one’s no exception. Image courtesy of the University Theatre.

by Carey Rutherford

Live music is everywhere: that’s the best part about it.

And I don’t just mean on streets when the weather is fine, or in the train or bus stations when it’s not. Do you listen to the music in the media you consume? Do you hear the stuff that’s happening when you go in and out of buildings, malls, elevators, friend’s houses or cars? Do you listen when you sit on your balcony in the first late-afternoon respite from the cold that happens in Calgary’s spring around three or four o’clock? Maybe your neighbour is on the acoustic guitar, playing a song you haven’t heard for a decade (and hopefully not singing along).

Or, maybe they can sing, like my neighbour, if you’re lucky.

Listen carefully in The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies: the stories are great, the production outstanding, but the MUSIC in them is AMAZING!!

Like in The Humorous Magistrate: you know, the play being put on by the University of Calgary’s Department of Drama right now, based on the unsigned 1640 text? Pieced together over five years of research? THAT Humorous Magistrate, yes.

Okay, so maybe you’re a little back-dated on your Shakespearean period anonymous drama, but that’s not the point. Let’s talk about Alberta today. Are the political and judicial systems deserving of a little ribbing these days? Does the nature of authority in Calgary and the province need to be kept on their toes? Are public figures acting “incompetent, corrupt, and hilarious”? * Definitely.

Okay, now jump back to the 1640’s play, and you’re right in line. Theatre at this time is under fire by the powers-that-be, life is hard, and everyone wants to see the ‘upper-class’ showing their humanity. And they are, in the 2-and-some hours of The Humorous Magistrate. But best of all is the music.

Each act starts off with 5 musicians who summarize or introduce the happenings in a 4-part chorus that beautifully captures the music of the 17th century, all multiple vocal lines and strummed lute There’s a wonderful equilibrium of the singers’ voices here. The lute-player’s accompaniment was impeccable and charming; perfect for the many vocal lines his companions magically balanced while meandering around the stage.

To the author, these jewels sparkle amongst the Old-World bantering of the Magistrate, his lustful family and love-struck friends. And then the cast itself breaks into a shepherd’s party of song and dance which looks, basically, like a lot of fun. What, does EVERYONE sing?

Apparently. Thank goodness. As I have said before, music helps the world go around, especially when the world seems most ridiculous.

*from The Humorous Magistrate programme.